The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded funding to photonics education programs with the goal of increasing the number of qualified technicians available in the workforce. $3.5 million in grant funding has gone to the National Center for Optics and Photonics Education (OP-TEC) in Waco, Texas, to increase the supply of well-educated photonics technicians by building and strengthening photonics education in US two-year colleges. Provided through NSF’s Advanced Technological Education program, the grant will allow for the continued operation of the OP-TEC National Center of Excellence through 2016.The center assists more than 30 two-year colleges throughout the US in improving the quality and increasing the enrollment of their Photonics Technician Education AAS programs. OP-TEC is also assisting over 40 more colleges to start new programs. Photonics technicians move laser research into applications in manufacturing, medicine and telecommunications. Photo courtesy of Texas State Technical College. Michigan’s first photonics and laser technology associate degree program launched Sept. 30 at Baker College of Flint under a $199,757 NSF grant. OP-TEC is named in the grant abstract as a collaborator with Indian Hills Community College of Ottumwa, Iowa, in creating the academic and outreach programs for photonics. Another grant will send $2.9 million to Indian River State College (IRSC) of Fort Pierce, Fla., to establish a regional center to meet a growing need for trained laser and fiber optics technicians. In partnership with 10 colleges and more than 253 companies, IRSC will lead the Lasers and Fiber Optics Regional Center to develop and deliver training in lasers and fiber optics throughout the Southeast. The college said the program will serve as a gateway to high-skill, high-wage employment in new industries after two years of technical training. Approximately 30 US colleges offer photonics instruction, according to a recent study commissioned by OP-TEC; they graduate an estimated 250 to 300 technicians annually. But that only meets about one-third of the industry’s projected annual need through 2017.